Month: June 2019

G318 has Fallen

30 June – China (Sichuan) – ~190 miles – 314 miles

Well… what a day.
A long long day.

At breakfast, we discover that we can’t take the intended route, as there’s been a landslide. So, there’s some hurried perusing of maps… but with no confirmed alternate route at leaving time.
We start riding, and get to a point where the decision needs to be made… and wait there for a while, watching as other traffic, mostly trucks, start to pile up at all three roads leading to this central little village.
Eventually, we think we have a plan – and get back on the bikes… initially picking our way through all the trucks which have filled both lanes of the chosen road. Get free of that, and some nice riding for a while, albeit all as a big group, not really knowing where we’re going yet. First attempt at an alternative route… dwindles down to “a goat track along the edge of a cliff”. Which – to be honest – sounded like a bit of fun, but also – the main recurring nightmare I had leading up to this trip… just a slight mistake on such a road, and the bike (maybe me) falling off a cliff. It’s decided to find another way.

Another way” is found – with about an hour of following the van, as the roads involved don’t appear on any of our GPS systems. And then… “it’s simple – just follow this road for another 40 miles or so, then follow the G108 up to Ya’an – where we’re back on the official/documented route… but make sure to not get on the Expressway G5”.
So, a spot of lunch, and then everybody heads off in their own time.
And yes – it was that simple (excluding some extended roadworks)… until Ya’an. I’d been starting to feel a little cocky, leading a couple of riders with my flawless navigation – wondering why anybody had thought this little detour had been so difficult… until Ya’an, where the directions/route-notes to get out of town, on to the non-expressway road – led to a no-longer-existent road. Quite a lot of time was spent trying to find alternative ways out of town in the right direction, with no luck – until eventually a local pulled up, and offered to guide us to the correct road… successfully.
Thank you random local.

Then – the notes on how to follow that road also seemed to refer to things/intersections/roads which no longer existed, or had been moved… but I eventually got to the city at Mount Emie/Emie-Shan, where we’re staying. And for one final time – 2 miles from the hotel – I follow a road to a dead-end, where there’s a big blue fence blocking me from where I want to go… once again I’m looking over a barrier – to see the exact road I want to be on just 100m away. Aaarrgh.
But, find another way, and finally pull into the hotel – 12 hours after leaving in the morning – thinking I must be the last rider in… but no, there’s still 3 out, who do eventually pull in, about two hours later.

Other than the rather large difference in expected riding time… the ride was nice. Went through some extended sections of metres-high bamboo on each side of the road, once again reminding one of certain Kung-Fu movies, and imagining “Wire Fu” scenes playing out on either side and over me.
And, road-signs which seemed to be saying “Giant Pandas live here – so don’t cut down or dig up the bamboo”. Didn’t see any pandas, but the wildlife here at Emie-Shan seems prolific, in the short time I’ve been here. One toad jumping over my feet as I walked from the bike, and then discovered a 4-inch long stick(/branch?)-insect which somehow attached itself to my back/shoulder.

I don’t seem to have taken a single photo today, although I think I got some video footage… instead, here’s a photo from many weeks ago, which I only recently discovered – my riding through the deepest stretch of sand we encountered in the Wukhan Valley…

Sand. Not cool.

More of Highway G318

29 June – China (Sichuan) – ~275 miles

Yet another day of riding at 4,000+m, several passes, all the twisty and switchback roads which come with such passes, absolutely insane local drivers, nice scenery, etc, etc.
All ending up in the rather lovely city of Kangding… staying at the Love Song Hotel. Named after some love song which Kangding and surrounding scenery inspired. And yeah – it is the sort of place which could inspire songs – a river running through the middle of the main road outside (splitting the directional lanes), and forest-covered hills surrounding us. Nice.

Not much more to say really, other than copy-pasting the descriptions of riding from the last week or so.
I didn’t even bother putting the GoPro on today… how many hours of footage of riding great twisty roads with a spectacular scenic backdrop do I really need? Even stopping to take photos… I had to force myself to take a token couple.
Today was probably the worst day of local drivers seeming to deliberately stop bikes from passing. A few times I’ve just leaned on the horn until they either get out of the way, or – more likely – until they inadvertently leave a big enough gap to accelerate past. Apparently some other riders got to the point where they were banging on the windows of some driver, yelling and demanding he explain just what the hell he thought he’d been doing for the last several miles.

Not as spectacular as some road-views seen, although the viewpoint was titled “Spectacular Road View” (or similar), and there is the helpful “sign” confirming the highway number

Tibet-Sichuan Highway – Farewell to Tibet

28 June – China (Tibet-Sichuan) – ~160 miles

Final day in Tibet… and it gave us a fitting goodbye.
Three passes – 5,090m, 3,926m, 4,360m.
Some beautiful scenery,
a high road following the near-top of a ravine,
and then 40 miles of Chinese roadworks.

Chinese roadworks are fun… lots of torn up road, gravel, dirt, mud, dust, traffic, for 40 miles, but no rules. Just overtaking trucks because I can ride on the dirt/broken-stuff faster than they can on the tarmac; ducking around and under diggers; LandRovers who think they’re the best and fastest thing on the road (to be put back in their box by an over-eager Tiger-rider); and just general chaos. So much fun.

Ended up in Batang, Sichuan. Only casualty of the chaos was one chap losing a pannier when a 360-digger turned around and knocked him sideways… no major damage.

Happy Birthday Mum.

Yaks-in-river, bike-in-background
About to ride this road… knowing there’s not a single vehicle for the length I can see
Looking far ahead to some awesome road
One near-final view of Tibet

Tibet-Sichuan Highway – “Zig-Zag Mountain Road with 72 Turns”

27 June – China (Tibet) – ~260 miles

Another day starting out damp, and therefore not a huge amount of fun.
But – some lovely valleys, road following the river, and the still beautiful sight of the hills/mountains enshrouded by cloud. Another 4-thousand-and-whatever metre high pass, and some lunch at a basic road-side “cafe”.

And then… the road starts getting interesting… going up each side of a valley, a few hairpin turns on one side of the gorge/valley, then cross over to the other side, a few hairpin turns over there. And that just keeps going, and going. Some of the turns were unfortunately surfaced with polished concrete… meaning I came very very close to my first “drop” of the bike… but somehow managed to recover. And then – the road committed to one side of the gorge, with long twisty bits punctuated by the hairpin turns. And peeking over the side, one suddenly realises how high one has climbed in a relatively short time. Very, very high. At the near-summit/viewpoint – some spectacular views of probably less than half of the road just taken – but that’s enough.
The “Zig-Zag Mountain Road with 72 Turns” – as the informational sign names it. Spectacular. Some people have been claiming it was better than the Everest Base Camp ride – and I don’t want to argue with them, as I’m undecided myself. Everest was just a constant relentless barrage of hairpins. This was a little more variety, and as one person described it – perhaps a more “natural” road. Anyway – awesome.

After an icecream and some iced tea at the not-quite-summit, it was another 80 miles to just cross the pass, get back down to reasonable altitude, and find our brand-new hotel in Zuogong/Zugong. As it really is brand-new – finished last year, nobody had been here before, the notes on how to get here weren’t particularly accurate, and I ended up taking streets that obviously didn’t exist the last time the GPS maps were updated. As is seen fairly often in China – this looks to be an entire suburb which has been built-from-scratch in the last 18 months. Odd, impressive, and terrifying.

First hints of sunshine
Bike-next-to-river (angry river)
Very angry river
Prayer flags – on bike, and on pass/summit
A very few of the supposed “72 turns” of “Zig-Zag Mountain Road”

Sichuan-Tibet Highway, Yak-Dodgin’

26 June – China (Tibet) – ~142 miles

Lovely ride today – started a little wet, and going over the first ~4,500m pass – clouds were super low… which made the road rather damp, but the scenery – beautiful. Green hills, with the tops hidden by cloud. Very reminiscent of the artier Kung-Fu movies

And, lots of animals on the roads – yaks, and long-horned cows.
Tunnels, with yaks taking cover just in the entrance/exit… rather difficult to see.
Drivers who certainly aren’t used to the quality of road plus vehicle-speeds.
At one point I stopped at a nice little scenic spot, with two cows sitting off the road, nice and peaceful. Two cars full of locals turn up – and immediately bother the cows (rather, very young bulls) until they stand up… and then usher them onto the road. Very odd – it seemed deliberate – but perhaps just to get them out of the nice safe off-road grassy area where they were – so that the locals could take photos? In any case – traffic in both directions was disrupted for quite some time, but… the guys got some nice photos doing kung-fu poses in front of the scenery.

Spending the night in Bomi – where again my room is much much larger than my London apartment. And where I only recently realised that only 100m away, there is a very steep green wall up to the clouds, reminiscent of the scenery thus far today. So… probably about time to see if I can find a restaurant with a view of that.

There is a bike amongst that scenery. No kung-fu poses, but.
Bridge – didn’t ride across this one
Bike-in-front-of-bridge (with Kruse)

Starting the Sichuan-Tibet Highway

25 June – China (Tibet) – ~253 miles

Left Lhasa this morning, to start the long road out of Tibet, over the famous Sichuan-Tibet Highway. Took a wrong turn fairly early on, and ended up on the motorway/expressway – which is forbidden to motorcycles. Stayed on that for about 25 miles (no options to exit) – without anybody stopping me.
Over a 5,000m altitude pass, rather ho-hum nowadays.
Stopped for a cup of tea at a little Tibetan teahouse, which also had posters of the Cordyceps ‘mushroom’, the “super mushroom” we discovered some years ago – apparently this area is a source for it. The guy showed me a plastic shopping bag half-full of the dried stuff, and then I bought a single fresh cordyceps for 50 yuan. Not cheap stuff.
BTW – I had a “yak meatball and caterpillar” soup last night, which had three smaller ones in it… and considering one of the benefits is supposed to be increasing oxygen intake, last night was the first time I’ve struggled to get to sleep with the altitude/low-oxygen-levels.

Overall, the day’s ride was rather pleasant – the aforementioned 5,000m pass, lots of miles following a river, etc. But I was super tired – falling asleep at times – so probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I could/should have. Eventually I pulled over, lay in the shade of a tree, and had a bit of an afternoon nap. Waking up twice as the free-roaming cows came dangerously close to trampling me. But eventually reached our destination of Linzhi safe and sound, and hoping for an early night.

Shopowner very proud to sell a cordyceps to a laowei… expect my face on marketing material soon
Pulled over for a photo of yaks-on-the road, when a yak-brawl broke out
An old bridge, I guess